Tuesday 22 March 2011

‘Victories of the Space Marines’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

I’ve been really looking forward to getting my hands on ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ but I’ll admit that the first thing to cross my mind when I saw the title was ‘way to spoil the ending of each and every short story in the collection’. The Space Marines win… Ok… Now we know that, is there any point in reading the rest of the book?

The short answer, for me anyway, was ‘yes’ and on the whole I didn’t regret it. You may have a good idea about how things will turn out in each story but that’s almost beside the point really. If you’re reading a Black Library book then you’re after a well written tale (of course) but what you’re also after is a book where stuff happens. And not just ‘happens’ either, we’re talking ‘happens in a hail of gunfire and alien blood’. ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ delivers on that score and comes up with a few surprises as well as the subject matter also covers the traitor Marines who have defected to the side of Chaos. The Marines always win but which Marines? That’s the question and the answers of several Black Library writers take the reader through possibly one of the grimmest visions of the future that you’ll encounter. These guys all know their stuff and the end results are stories that are rich in all the details that make this setting unique. I’ve said it before; this setting is a great place to spend time but I would hate to live there…

I had a lot of fun with ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ but, as with most anthologies, some stories stood out for me more than others. I’m not talking just in a good way either… I guess the bottom line is that fans of the setting are more or less guaranteed a good read from ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ while the book is also a good place for newcomers to jump on board and see if the Warhammer 40K universe takes their fancy. With action happening on different planets and different Chapters of Space Marines in action one thing this particular book does provide is a lot of variety. The stories on offer are as follows…

‘Runes’ (Chris Wraight)

This looked to be a great story to open on as I’ve enjoyed Wraight’s work in the Warhammer fantasy setting. Things didn’t work so well for me this time round though. The tale of Space Wolf Marines searching for a powerful artefact had plenty of action and was fast paced, too fast to get a real feel for the players on the stage… (7/10)

‘The Rewards of Tolerance’ (Gav Thorpe)

A renegade squad of Marines make for the Eye of Terror but their initial attempts at piracy could delay their journey, fatally so. I haven’t read a lot of Gav Thorpe’s work but this was worth the time as you get to see Marines starting to shake off their indoctrination and rediscover their individuality whilst fighting Eldar for control of a merchant vessel. I loved how this one ended but felt that the relative brevity of the tale prevented Thorpe from saying everything that he wanted to. (8.5/10)

‘Black Dawn’ (C.L. Werner)

C.L. Werner continues to surprise me, just after I thought I had his work all figured out. ‘Black Dawn’ has all the gut churning violence that you would expect from Werner but there’s also a real twist in the tale that I never saw coming. I think I’m definitely going to have to pick up more of his books (9/10)

‘The Long Games at Carcharias’ (Rob Sanders)

There was a lot to recommend Rob Sanders’ ‘Redemption Corps’ and I was hoping for more of the same here with a tale of a Marine Chapter attacked from within. This story is gorgeously plotted and you get a real feel for the helplessness of the Marines under attack. What you also get though is Sanders’ habit of bogging the story down in detail that really slows things up. A real shame as this tale had the potential to be one of the leading lights in the book. (8/10)

‘Heart of Rage’ (James Swallow)

I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook moaning that the Black Library audio books don’t represent particularly good value for money and that they’d rather see these stories collected in regular books instead. Well, those folks will start to get their wishes granted if the inclusion of ‘Heart of Rage’ is anything to go by. I’m not going to talk about this story as I have already covered it Here.

‘But Dust in the Wind’ (Jonathan Green)

Imperial Fists Marines versus the robotic Necrons in a fight to the death. Green’s story shows us in no uncertain terms that even though victory comes with a cost, the fight is still worth fighting. And there’s a face off between genetically powered warriors and tomb dwelling robots which is done in the best possible way. You can’t lose really (9/10)

‘Exhumed’ (Steve Parker)

The Deathwatch are a collection of Marines seconded to work for the Inquisition and ‘Exhumed’ does very well at displaying how such a dysfunctional team must work together to survive. Parker gives his reader a collection of well drawn characters and forces them to work together when faced with an alien that cannot be beaten by any single Marine, or can it? Conflict on two levels made this a story that demanded my attention (9.5/10)

‘Primary Instinct’ (Sarah Cawkwell)

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees and this was very much the case here as Silver Skulls Marines face a new danger on a jungle planet. It felt like there was so much jungle to get through that when things actually happened you almost didn’t notice them. The whole point of the story felt a little lightweight and there was a little too much attention being paid to how handsome the Sergeant was… (5/10)

‘Sacrifice’ (Ben Counter)

Could this be the best Space Marine story I’ve ever read (so far)? I think it is. The Grey Knight Marines are hunting down a dangerous heretic and it’s as dangerous as you would expect. Counter gives us some real gripping moments as the Marines take on daemons but it’s the moments where the action cuts out and you see just what has gone into the making of a single bullet that have the real impact in terms of just what the setting is all about. The other tales in this collection may fade from my mind but not this one (10/10)


Antonakis said...

Would you say that this collection can be understood and enjoyed by somebody who has never read any warhammer / black library stuff ? Is this a good or an inappropriate entry point ?

Graeme Flory said...

I think I mentioned at the top that this would be a fairly decent entry point for someone who isn't familiar with the setting. The authors involved generally strike a good balance between introducing us to the setting and showing us what it is like to live in it.

Graeme Flory said...

Forgot to say... All of these stories are 'stand alone' so you don't need any prior history to jump in and get going.

Antonakis said...

Thanks! Your reply makes this collection more desirable. I think I'm tempted to track it down and buy a copy! :)

James B said...

Gav Thorpe started at Games Workshop back in the early nineties and was everything from a tea boy to a games developer before he switched to BL - so it's no wonder he knows how it all works.

Lee Kelly said...

Having read Sarah C's 'Primary Instinct' in the debut issue of BLs 'Hammer & Bolter' magazine, I am rather bemused by the comment regarding her apparent obsession with the handsome sergeant. Truth be told, I find it rather unjustified.

I'd argue that very little emphasis is placed on Gileas' appearance; certainly far less than some of the more established authors have used in previous shorts.

When I pick up my copy of 'Victories...' I'll be curious to see how Sarah's descriptive passages match up against the other authors in this collection.

Graeme Flory said...

Hi Lee,

I don't think I said that there was obsession with his looks, just a little more attention paid to them than I saw in the other short stories. It just didn't seem to sit well here, at least as far as I was concerned. If it works for you though then fair enough :o)

Thinking about it... I've finished reading Nick Kyme's 'Fall of Damnos' and there is attention paid to Captain Sicarius' good looks. This however is very specifically aimed at showing how Sicarius rallies the troops under his command and I never got that same sense in 'Primary Instinct'...

Jim said...

I've just read three of these stories so far. Sacrifice was truly awesome. Good companion for those getting the new Grey Knights codex, too.

Anonymous said...

Am I seriously the only one who hated Sacrifice with a passion? The sacrifices associated with annointing Alaric's ammunition and (to a lesser extent) imbuing his armor are practically Khornate, making Alaric and likely other Grey Knights parties to heresy! It violates everything the It's like the Grey Knights slaughtering Sisters of Battle and employing daemon-weapons in Matt Ward's fucked up new rulebook!

Not only are these sacrifices self-defeating, it's implied that this innocent blood may have foreshadowed Alaric's capture by Duke Venalitor and his trials on Drakaasi.

The only saving grace about it is the implication that Alaric is not aware of how much innocent blood stains his wargear.